Gig workers work open shifts in U of M dining halls and often make more than full-time employees

Days after U of M service workers ratified a new collective agreement, long-serving dining hall employees are concerned about the trend of resorting to costly temporary help.

MINNEAPOLIS — Now that about 1,500 University of Minnesota service workers have accepted a new contract that will raise their minimum wage, they hope fewer temporary workers will be called upon to fill shifts.

“Everyone is happy that food service and the University’s lowest-paid workers have made significant gains,” said Mick Kelly, who has more than 20 years’ experience as a cook at Pioneer Dining Hall. . “That said, we deserve better.”

Kelly says he and his fellow Teamsters have struggled this semester as they work alongside a rotating group of colleagues who only sign up for a few shifts, lack workplace knowledge and earn then much more per hour. Especially since full-time employees are waiting for their new contract to take effect.

“I think that’s problematic,” Kelly said. “We have temporary workers who are much better paid than people who have been working here for a while.”

Minnesota Reformer reporter Max Nesterak saw this pay gap first-hand after hearing shifts were available on an app called BlueCrew.

“I signed up on an app and after confirming I had closed shoes and could stand for eight hours, I was hired as a cook for $22.55 an hour,” Nesterak said. .

RELATED: U of M to Reimburse Some Student Meal Costs Due to Dining Hall Issues

He detailed his experience working in the dining room, for a new report in Minnesota Reformer. Although he has no commercial kitchen experience, he was asked to help fill one of approximately 120 food service openings on the Twin Cities campus at this time.

“At one point I was dragging students next to a second-year medical student who told me she was making about $15 an hour,” Nesterak said.

And he wasn’t just earning more than new hires.

“I’ve been here for 23 years and then having temps earn more than me is overwhelming,” said Tammy Sanchez, who currently earns less than $21 an hour.

Max says part of the wage gap relates to benefits, which full-time unionized employees receive.

“It’s a very important part,” he said. “When you’re a Teamster, you get a pension, you get health benefits, you get paid time off, but if you’re just trying to take extra shifts and just want a little extra money, a higher salary is more attractive.”

The new contract signed by the Teamsters will see the minimum wage rise from $15 to $20 an hour, but the increases aren’t as dramatic for long-serving employees.

But there are concerns that $20 an hour may not be enough to fill all current vacancies. Chartwells, the company that handles catering services for U of M, also brought in a company called Chef on the Fly this semester, bringing in more than 30 out-of-state reinforcements.

RELATED: U of M: Lunchables Weren’t Meant to Be a Meal Replacement for College Students

“The starting salary for these jobs is $22 an hour,” Nesterak said. “Besides flights and hotel rooms not too far from here. At the time (they brought them) there were also concerns of an impending strike and the University had good reason to fear that there are not enough workers to feed the students during a strike.

Now that this strike has been averted, Nesterak has learned that there is a plan to phase out the costliest temps and add more full-time union employees.

Kelly and Sanchez say they’ll believe it when they see it.

“I think things could change,” Kelly said. “The fact is, because we were ready to strike, we made appreciable differences. That’s an absolute fact. Do we deserve better? That’s also a fact. So how far things are going do they change? That remains to be seen.”

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